Top Republicans on Wednesday tried to tie the Kerry campaign to disputed documents used by CBS News for a story examining President Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the Texas National Guard and called for a congressional investigation.
Meanwhile, CBS News President Andrew Heyward promised to work harder to answer questions about the veracity of memos it believes were written by the president’s late National Guard commander.
The network continues to maintain that “the content” of the story is true.
The documents written by Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian indicated he was being pressured to sugarcoat the performance ratings of a young Bush, then the son of a Texas congressman, and that Bush failed to follow orders to take a physical. Several experts believe they are fakes, prepared on a computer about events in a typewriter era.
On the “CBS Evening News” Wednesday, CBS interviewed Killian’s former secretary, who believes the documents are fake but they accurately reflected her former boss’ feelings.
‘The information in those is correct’
“I know that I didn’t type them,” said 86-year-old Marian Carr Knox. “However, the information in those is correct.”
In calling for a congressional investigation, California Rep. Chris Cox said the network has declined to reveal its source “despite the growing abundance of evidence that CBS News has aided and abetted fraud.”
The chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, fellow Republican Joe Barton of Texas, rejected Cox’s call for a hearing.
“A news organization’s responsibility is to facts and truth, but the oversight of network news generally is a matter best sorted out by the viewing public and the news media,” Barton said. “I do not personally believe these documents are legitimate, and it seems clear that the press and the two presidential campaigns are properly dealing with that issue.”
Forty congressional Republicans joined House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, in a letter calling on Heyward to retract the story.
“To date, CBS’s response to the specific and devastating criticisms of the accuracy of its reporting has been to question the motives of its critics, to offer half-truths in its own defense, to refuse to disclose crucial evidence and to circle the wagons,” Blunt wrote.
Accusations against Democrats
he Republican National Committee cited CBS in criticizing a Democratic National Committee video that portrays Bush as a “fortunate son” who used family connections to dodge the Vietnam War and then lied about it.
RNC spokesman Jim Dyke said the video was “as creative and accurate as the memos they gave CBS.”
Responded Phil Singer, Kerry campaign spokesman: “It’s ridiculous. We didn’t give CBS anything.”
CBS did not respond to the political accusations. Heyward said that “we would not have put the report on the air if we did not believe in every aspect of it.”
However, he added, “enough questions have been raised that we are going to redouble our effort to answer those questions.”
CBS has refused to reveal how it obtained the documents, other than it received them from a man who “had access to the documents he provided and an opportunity to obtain copies of them. Our sources included individuals who had first-hand knowledge of the events in question.”
One of the network’s most highly regarded producers, Mary Mapes, worked on the story with anchor Dan Rather. Mapes was also the producer behind CBS’ story this spring that showed American soldiers allegedly abusing inmates in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
Bill Burkett, a retired National Guard officer from Texas, was cited in reports in Newsweek and The New York Times as a source for CBS’ report. Neither Burkett nor his lawyer, David Van Os, returned repeated phone calls from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Reports name CBS source
Burkett told The Associated Press in February that he had overheard a conversation in 1997 between then-Gov. Bush’s chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, and then-Adjutant Gen. Daniel James of the Texas Air National Guard in which he contends those two men spoke about getting rid of any military records that would “embarrass the governor.”
Burkett said he saw documents from Bush’s file discarded in a trash can a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Burkett described them as performance and pay documents. He said the documents bore the header: “Bush, George W. 1lt.” — meaning first lieutenant.
Allbaugh and James denied the allegations.
The documents in question were released by the White House last week after it received them from CBS — which was seeking administration comment — because “we had every reason to believe that they were authentic at that time,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Questions about their authenticity, however, are serious issues that should be looked into fully by media organizations, he said.
“The one thing that is not under question is the timing of these orchestrated attacks by the Democrats on the president’s service. And these are old, recycled attacks,” he said.
“And the Democrats have made it clear that they intend to try to tear down the president and throw the kitchen sink at us because they can’t run on John Kerry’s record and because they see him falling behind in the polls. And that’s what this is about.”